Authors: Nina Milton
Tags: #mystery, #mystery fiction, #mystery novel, #england, #british, #medium-boiled, #suspense, #thriller, #shaman, #shamanism
Beneath the Tor: A Shaman Mystery
Â© 2015 by Nina Milton.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2015
E-book ISBN: 9780738743820
Book format by Teresa Pojar
Cover design by Ellen Lawson
Cover art: iStockphoto.com/20894066/Â©Andrew Rich
Editing by Nicole Nugent
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Beneath the Tor / Nina Milton. â First edition.
pages ; cm. â (A Shaman mystery ; #3)
1. ShamansâFiction. I. Title.
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This book is dedicated to the people who manage without me while I'm stuck in my writing: my family and my dearest friends.
This book had its seeds in my visits, over the years, to the town of Glastonbury. I have deep connections with many of the people who live there or use it as a sacred and spiritual base for their work. In particular, I would like to thank the generosity of Nicholas Mann, whose wide breadth of knowledge on Glastonbury was my foundation stone, especially his books
The Isle of Avalon: Sacred Mysteries of Arthur and Glastonbury
(Green Magic, 2001) and
Glastonbury Tor: A Guide to the History and Legends
(Triskele Publications, 1993). Both of these were by my side as I wrote. Thanks too, to Mara Freeman, an authority on the mysteries surrounding the Isle of Avalon. She had just finished writing
Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
(Destiny Books, 2014), at the time I was completing
Beneath the Tor
and, again, I found this inspirational. Thanks to my son, Joe Milton, for talking me through the basic philosophy of the story.
I would also like to thank to Ronald Hutton, who has personally been an unflinching support to me as a writer. The team at Midnight Ink should be thanked for making the Shaman Mystery series possible, for believing in me as a writer, and for being such good guys generally. Finally, I need to yet again thank my agent, Lisa Moylett, who has long been my beacon of quality for good style, strong narrative, and persuasive characters.
Alys was dancing as
the stars reeled, dancing on Glastonbury Tor on Midsummer Eve.
She danced as if the drumbeats were bursting out of her. As if her feet were charmed to never rest.
It was a hot night, balmy as a tropical coastline, and Alys wore little more than a
and some tiny shorts which displayed her thighs, slender and toned. She'd kicked off her shoes to spin and bop. She wore her hair blond with one of those zigzag partings that take ages in front of a mirror. I thought she looked half the age she was; all night she'd had the energy of a teenager.
Ten of usâa group keen to explore shamanismâhad climbed the west side of Glastonbury Tor as the sun slipped from the sky in a shock of red. I'd been taking the lead up the steep grassy slope and was finally in sight of the hill's crest, where the ground spread and flattened as if it had been sliced off, like the top of a boiled egg. I could already hear the people, the drums. My own pulse quickened. The party had begun.
Alys had grinned as she'd surged past me, heading hotfoot for the summit. She'd balanced on the edge above and exploded into jumping jacksâfrom sheer joy, it seemed to meâher long legs gold in the last sun.
Wolfsbane had leaned on his staff, an ornately carved piece of ashwood, and pointed with his unlit cigarette. He was a chain smoker when he got the chance, but didn't have the breath to light up on the climb. “That girl is going to make a terrific shaman. I can't wait to start working with her.”
“Alys is a shaman virgin.” Shelley had looked at me and given a secret wink. “You go gentle with her, Wolfsie.”
Alys had given the rest of us a wide wave of her arm and disappeared into the revellers. As she did so, another of our group sprinted the last leg of the path in highly unsuitable white Levis, taking the gradient as if life was at risk.
It was Brice, Alys's husband. He'd never wanted to come here. He'd tagged along because Alys had persuaded him. It was evident he wasn't used to this
“Didn't you say Alys was in banking?” I asked Shell. “She's not exactly typical.”
“They're both bankers, Sabbie, her and Brice.”
“Banker?” Wolfsbane grinned at us. “Wanker.”
Shell's lips had thinned; I thought she'd sucked them in to stop them trembling. “They're my friends, Wolfsie.” She'd pecked a kiss on his lips and chased up the hill. I followed her, and all at once I was in the middle of the party to end all parties, five hundred feet up from the plains below. No invitations, no streamers, no food, and no music, just the incessant hammer of the drums, which would not stop until the sun rose. I was sure the population of Glastonbury town, in the valley below, tossed in their beds to the bongos, djembes, and Irish bodhrans.
I tried counting the people; it felt like every pagan and
from miles around had come to be on this hill at this sacred time. The perfect June day had become the perfect Midsummer Eve Night.
“Come and dance, Sabbie!” Alys had screamed at me, bouncing on the grass of the Tor as if it was a trampoline. For a while I'd kept up with her crazy pace until she'd spun off into the crowds, stealing flowers and snatching at hands. She became everyone's mascot. In the subdued light of flares and torches, her skin was translucent.
After that, I didn't catch sight of Alys for hours at a time. It was after three a.m. when I spotted her disappearing into St. Michael's Tower. Drummers surrounded her, the high roofless walls of the ruined church magnifying their booming rhythms. From nowhere Brice arrived at the tower's archway. He pushed through the drummers and took Alys by the hand, easing her away, leading her to where he'd laid out their two sleeping bags at the far end of the Tor. He'd zipped them up to make one double bag and he wriggled into his side, patting the space beside him.
I was sitting with Juke and Ricky, too far away to hear what he said, but I could guess her answer, because I'd heard her affirm it earlier in the day: “
I won't stop dancing for a second. Not until I salute the rising sun. An initiation on the Tor on the Solstice night
I knew she meant it because, even as Brice pleaded for her to come and lie with him, her feet did not stopped tapping. She skipped away, laughing and blowing him kisses.
The crowd had thinned. All over the summit, people were curling into bags or simply wrapping fleeces round themselves and kipping where they lay.
Juke had finally got his head downâhe was an amorphous blob hidden inside his sleeping pod. I'd known Juke for around six months. He was a paradoxical mix; at
he held down a job that affected people's lives, yet tonight he'd danced like a kid straight from school. On the other hand, his mate Ricky, not much younger and still in the middle of his degree, didn't have Juke's party spirit. He'd soon given up on dancing and spent most of the night sitting
at the very edge of the Tor, a duvet slung over his shoulders, staring out over the landscape below us. His old head on young shoulders intrigued me. We sat in silence for a while, enjoying the predawn darkness.
The landscape was a black mirror. The town was asleep. Over my head, almost close enough to reach up and touch, a fattening moon of white gold was shrouded by ragged strands of cloud. Below lay the mystical Vale of Avalon and the flat Somerset Moors. A damp mist rose invisibly. I felt myself reconnect with the
layer of enchantment that surrounds Glastonbury Tor and I shivered. “Why is it always coldest before dawn?”
“The earth's surface cools all night long.” I hadn't expected an answer to my question, but Ricky was giving me one. “There's a steady loss of energy that can only become greater once there is no input from the sun. Actually, that goes on for at least an hour after dawn, the length of time it takes for the sun's warmth to equal the loss from the ground.”
I'd noticed earlier that Ricky's head was packed full of trivia. He seemed a smart boy, and l loved the way he jelled up his hair into a surprise to match his overdosing of white face power and black eyeliner. With his
boots and the embroidered waistcoat over a billowing shirt, he resembled a Transylvanian vampire.
Shell flopped down beside us.
“Where's Wolfs?” I asked.
“No idea. Said he needed to clear his head before dawn.” She checked her watch, a big yellow plastic affair. “The drummers have been going for almost five hours. They're amazing, Sabbie.”
“They're empowered by their own raw energy and the thud of the beat in their bones,” said Ricky.
“I think they're on something a bit stronger than raw energy!” Shelley said.
There were plenty of peddlers up there, but I'd avoided them. Too many E tablets and you wouldn't care if you were in a club or here on the Tor. Too much acid and you'd be flying off it. Too many beers and you'd be nasty to know by sunrise. Too many spliffs and you'd sleep through it.
“I love it up here,” said Shell. “I'm gonna get Wolfsbane to show me how to walk the Tor labyrinth.”
“That's hours of walking,” said Ricky. “Inner meditation.”
Her teeth glinted white as she flashed a grin. “And how. Tantric sex when y'get to the top, yeah?”
Ricky didn't reply, and to cover the silence I said, “Last time I walked the Tor labyrinth, I reached the top, and, next thing I knewâI was flat on my back.”
“You fell over?”
“I'd passed out.”
“You were crossing the ley lines,” said Ricky. “Each line disÂassembled your spirit. Until you were totally discombobulated.”
Shell giggled. “I love that â¦ discom â¦”
“Bobbed,” said Ricky. He put his hand on her bare arm. “You feel cold. I wish I'd invented a
bottle for tonight, one that stays warm without power input.” He shifted until his duvet was equally over both their shoulders.
“Thank you, kind sir.” Shell lowered her voice, muffled already by the duvet cave, and eased herself closer to him. Ricky didn't look directly at her, or make any further move. Shell was Wolfsbane's girl, and Wolfs was a respected person in the shamanic community. This had to be in Ricky's mind as Shell chattered on, her voice slightly husky, her hand rested on his thigh. He looked ill at ease. Discombobulated, even.
It was none of my business. I lay on my back for a while, watching the sky. I was sure I could detect just the tiniest promise of light on the rim of the northeastern horizon. The drummers knew it too; they redoubled their efforts, holding their bodhrans high above their heads as if they were weightless.
I rolled onto my stomach. A handful of dancers were still going strong. Alys was among them, turboed up like a child who'd had too much ice cream, hollering and whooping. I could hear her from the far side of the summit.
I saw her dance.
I saw her drop.
She fell to the ground without a stumble or cry.
She fell awkwardly, one leg trapped under the other, her head thrown back.
I stared for long seconds, waiting for her to rise.
Alys didn't get up. She didn't move at all.
I stood and ran, but one person reached her before me. Ricky dropped onto one knee and touched her gently on the cheek. “Alys? Alys!”
There was no response.
“What is it?” I barked. “What's wrong?”
“Exhaustion, I'd guess.”
Shell was scampering towards us. I screamed at her. “Get Brice! Quick!”
My phone was in my back pocket, switched off to save batteries. I fumbled with it, cursing the slow
. I got a signal. I
should get a signal on the top of this rock.
Word began to spread, people realized something was happening. The drums trailed off. The other dancers closed around us.
“Give her air, please!” I cried into the silence.
Ricky looked up. “She won't need air.”
“I saw her spirit go.”
“What? No, Ricky!”
Someone pushed forward. “I'm a hospital nurse.” He nodded at my phone. “
-nine. Now.” His purposeful,
hands were already feeling for Alys's pulse.
I was through to emergency services. The operator asked me for the address. Panic made the phone damp in my hand. “You're going to need a helicopter. We're at the top of the Tor.”
“You're on the top floor?”
“No! The Tor. Glastonbury Tor!”
The nurse was counting his compressions. I watched as he raised Alys's chin and breathed deeply into her mouth, his fingers pinching her nose. He wasn't stopping, wasn't thinking of stopping, but Alys had not responded. Someone brought a flashlight. In the yellow beam, Alys's face was pale, shocked, as if she'd seen something from another world. Eyes open wide. Lips white. Gone forever.
almost covered her pink shorts. The
was white; it had stayed white all through her dancing. The nurse rested the heels of both hands at the centre of her chest, where a flaming orange sun was situated, surrounded by the words
Have a Crazy Summer Solstice
. I could see her ribs through the
, I flinched as they bounced at each compression, as if they were brittle plastic. Up on her dancing feet, Alys was lean, tanned. I'd thought she had a figure to die for. Now she looked shrivelled, as if already turning to ashes.
“Put the phone to my ear,” said the nurse. “Let me speak to control.”
I did as I was bade automatically.
Shell had managed to rouse Brice. He pushed through the crowd, stopping short when he reached his wife. Brice didn't touch Alys. It seemed as if the nurse's actions, so smooth, so in control, prevented interference. He held out both hands as if hoping she might rise into them. His bare feet crushed the grass so that it sprang up between his
toes. I realized the grass was green. The sun was rising and no one was taking any notice of the dawn. The nurse talked with staccato bursts into my phone as he counted his compressions, on and on.
The cry lifted like a bird, a black carrion crow, rising from the Tor, already five hundred feet above the valley floor. I was sure that the whole of Glastonbury would hear his cryâthat the air ambulance would be able to navigate by it. It was the howl of a man who has never before felt this much pain. He collapsed onto the ground beside his wife. His wails subsided. He called her name, over and over, eyes stark with fear and grief, his hands fluttering over Alys's head like birds at dawn.
Most people had kept their distance and kept their voices respectfully low. They all knew who Alys was now; the girl who had danced all night. I heard a soft giggle far back in the crowd, the embarrassed reaction of someone not used to facing death. Brice heard the laugh and looked round with a face of thunder.
“It's too late.”
Ricky hadn't meant me to hear his words, but in the silence I caught them clearly. “Don't,” I cried. “The ambulance is on its way. There
His eyes were stark. He shook his head, confirming what we all knew, but longed to deny.
“I saw her spirit rise, Sabbie. It's already gone.”